DETROIT — The strangeness of a matchup between the two worst teams in baseball on Friday the 13th with a full moon hanging in the Detroit sky came to the forefront one batter into the first matchup of the Orioles’ four-game series with the Tigers.
Jonathan Villar cued Detroit starter Jordan Zimmermann’s sixth pitch up the first-base line, where the ball rolled slightly into foul territory, back into fair play and all the way down the line into the bag untouched for a leadoff single. Villar advanced on a steal, groundout and Trey Mancini single to score the first run. The next batter, Dwight Smith Jr., bounced a grounder to the right side that hit Mancini between first and second, meaning two of the Orioles’ first three hits made contact with either a base or base runner.
The oddness settled in from there, with the Orioles holding on for a 6-2 victory to open their visit to Comerica Park. The win pushed the Orioles to 4 1/2 games ahead of the Tigers in the standings, meaning they are guaranteed to leave Detroit with the home team still holding the worst record in baseball.
The Orioles (48-99) also pushed themselves beyond their 2018 win total with 15 games left in the season, though manager Brandon Hyde and Mancini have both said such a feat isn’t worth celebrating.
Instead, the Orioles can cherish a night where they quieted the Tigers (43-103) with crisp defense behind starter Aaron Brooks, who carried a shutout into the sixth before a bullpen that has been the best in baseball for more than three weeks backed him up. Home runs from Mancini and DJ Stewart added enough offense for Baltimore to open this brief road trip with a victory.
“I think our guys come to play,” Hyde said. "I think anybody that’s watched us play all year, we’ve had a ton of tough losses and tough series and tough stretches. Our guys continue to battle and our guys are going to play hard the rest of the way.”
Harvey returns in strong pitching performance
The Orioles’ bullpen has a majors-best 2.73 ERA since Aug. 20, but it spent the past nine games without fireballing rookie Hunter Harvey.
Harvey returned from the minor bicep soreness that had sidelined him since Sept. 2 with a perfect eighth, with his velocity in its regular upper 90s. In 6 1/3 major league innings, Harvey has struck out 11 while allowing only one run.
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“I can’t say enough about him with how he’s done since he’s gotten called up,” Mancini said. “He’s just electric out there.”
Harvey’s outing was part of a strong overall relief performance that followed Brooks’ 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball that came with some help from his defense. A night after making a critical error in a loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, third baseman Rio Ruiz ended the second inning by spinning to field a grounder to start a double play that got Brooks through the second. Jordy Mercer doubled with two outs in the fourth and tried to score when Travis Demeritte’s grounder rattled off Mancini’s glove at first, but second baseman Stevie Wilkerson recovered the ball with plenty of time to nab Mercer at the plate.
Shawn Armstrong, Paul Fry, Harvey and Mychal Givens combined for 3 2/3 scoreless innings.
“Guys have kind of settled in,” Hyde said. "When we’re aggressive and working ahead in the count we do a nice job. It’s when we fall behind and center cut things in bad spots that we run into trouble. But for the most part our guys have done a nice job working ahead in the count and staying on the attack.”
After Wilkerson doubled to start the fifth, Stewart hit his second home run of 2019 off the right-field foul pole. Chance Sisco followed with a single, moved to third on a double from Villar and scored on Mason Williams’ groundout.
After the Tigers scored twice in the bottom of the sixth, Mancini got those runs back with a two-run home run, his 31st.
“We can all look in the mirror every night and be proud of ourselves and the effort that we give,” Mancini said. "It doesn’t always translate into wins, but we all have so much to play for still. We want to go out and win every game, and we’re going to try to do that the rest of these 15 games.”